Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zaan: Magic Users

In addition to designing the 10th Age, some folks and I are working on an OSR setting/system modification known as Zaan. The idea is a sort of insane fantasy setting that reflects the kinds of ideas that twelve year olds might come up with if fed pixie sticks and allowed to doodle in their notebooks all day.

The concept of Zaan is that of a dying world peopled by warped versions of standard fantasy races. The Orbidium of Zaan is being consumed by the Cosmic Devoid, a side effect of the lugubrious and lazy elves magical meddling. Magic is dangerous and sword and sorcery-like, resulting in horrific alterations to the human body. Elves can use it without worry, of course, but they are too lazy to try to save the world. Here as a factor of interest, is the Magic User section of the Zaanual.
Starting Spells: 2d4 spells of first level
Starting Age: 16-25 (15+1d10)

Magic users have been called by many names throughout the history of Zaan. Wizards, sorcerers, summoners, conjurers, and fools are all some of the names that have been flung upon them, for magic users are invariably bound up with the unpleasant business of calling forth the fiends that prey on the dying plane and extracting knowledge from them.

Magic is inherently a dangerous business, having been learned from the elves and fiends that populate the Orbidium of Zaan. Magic users meddle with forces that are beyond mortal understanding or control until they themselves are no longer recognizable as mortals. The great archwizards of Zaan are inscrutable creatures of pure madness who have been loosed from the normal constraints of human morality and the generally accepted laws of physics.

Alignment: Magic users can be of any alignment. Lawful magic users are those who generally pursue their spellcraft with a scholarly bent who must catalog and keep records of their work. They also generally feel as though they should help prevent the decay of Zaan when they can. Neutral magic users have no qualms about leaving Zaan, and in fact many of them devote their entire existence to seeking a way out of the dying plane - a promise which only becoming an Archmage can fulfill. Chaotic magic users are dangerous cyclones of destruction, and beware one that comes your way. At worst they will gleefully make bargains that come at the cost of others’ safety and may even destroy the great dwarf pylons just to see what happens as Zaan becomes more unstable. At best, they are careless and generally do not engage in long-term planning.

Fiends: Magic users have an intimate relationship with fiends. While not all magic users interact with them frequently, it is a well known fact that the best way to learn new spells is to pry the secrets from the mouth of a fiend. In the halcyon days of yore the great Archmage Parthalax created an extremely powerful and yet extremely easy to cast spell that allowed his ten apprentices to learn magic from someone other than him (Parthalax was a lazy man, and spent most of his time with the elves). Since then, the knowledge of fiendish names has become deeply integrated with magical lore, and they are guarded as treasures.

Magic users begin play with a single fiendish name in their repertoire. This was either given to them by their master, stolen from an ancient manuscript, or came to them in an evil dream. The name always belongs to a scutling, the lowest class of fiend. The alignment of the fiend is determined by a d6 roll: 1-2 indicates a lawful fiend, 4-3 indicates a neutral fiend, and 5-6 indicates a chaotic fiend.

Almost all magic users know Parthalax’s Lamentable Mentor, though whether they use it is a moral conundrum they must puzzle out. Fiends make the best tutors, but they are likely to be odious, bothersome, stupid, or downright dangerous.

The Dangers of Magic: Regardless of whether or not you screw around with fiends, magic is dangerous! Especially for humans. Elves, who are immune to the hideous unpleasantries visited on men (and who are ever keen to remind them of that fact) never had to deal with these side effects and thus simply never worried about them. Any human magic user, however, who advances to level 3 may see them; At level 3 and every third level thereafter, they must make an immediate check on the Grotesque Magical Side Effect chart. A save vs. spell protects them from manifesting this effect.

Spell Boosting: Spells may be cast as though the magic user was 1d4 levels higher (determined each time this option is selected). However, this necessitates an immediate check on the Grotesque Magical Side Effects chart.

Optional Rule: Choking On It. If you use this optional rule, magic users cannot just blast any spell out of their brains instantly. Instead, they must choose which spell they have prepared at the moment, and they can hold this spell ready to fire for a period of about ten minutes. They must state which spell they are preparing to vomit up before-hand, much as a fighting man might draw his weapon. If you use this rule and the magic user hasn’t picked the spell he wants to be choking down when a fight begins, he must spend the first round in deep concentration, building up the mental and testicular fortitude to blast it out. However, they may bypass this restriction by instantly casting any spell they have (with no speed at all!), but they must check against the Bizarre Magical Side Effect chart.

You can cast spells in every round after you release your Choked spell, but only if you do it without interruption. If you stop the chain of spellcasting for any reason, you must take another round to gather your thoughts (and scrotes) and begin again the following round.

New spells:

Fiend Familiar
Range: the Lower Planes
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 1 familiar
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2d12 hours
Saving Throw: Special

This spell replaces the normal find familiar spell on Zaan. It can be used to call forth a familiar fiend of the magic user’s desired alignment. It will search the nethers for a scutfiend to bind to the magic user. These fiends are unpleasant to be around and will not form any manner of empathic link with the caster. They are rebellious and unruly, about as smart as a very slow third grader, but they are imbued with all manner of spells and spell-like abilities.

When the magic user attempts to find a familiar he must find a large brass brazier and load it with charcoal, expensive oils and herbs, and a little gemstone dust totaling no less than 1,000 gold pieces. The fiendish familiar that is called forth is bound to do the bidding of its master, though it may twist it’s masters words and intentions. Banishing spells will not affect it, though abjurations may keep it and its powers at bay.

Statistics of scutlings can be found in Chapter X, the Fiends of Zaan. Magic users may employ this spell more than once, but they may only control a total of fiends equal to their maximum number of henchmen; for every rank of the fiend, it takes up one additional slot. Any familiars summoned beyond your maximum number of henchmen will pretend to be your allies but will be unbound by the rules of the spell, and will attempt to kill you at the most opportune (or hilarious, depending on its personality) moment.

Parthalax’s Lamentable Mentor
Range: 10 feet
Duration: 24 hours/level
Area of Effect: One creature
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Saving Throw: none

When Parthalax’s Lamentable Mentor is cast, the magic user must have the name of a scutling rank fiend prepared. The Lamentable Mentor sends out questing tendrils through the void to locate this creature and pulls it bodily to Zaan. In its usual practice, the summoner has already prepared a Circle of Protection to contain the scutling, though mages lacking the power to prepare more than one spell a day may simply have to restrain it as they may. After the scutling’s arrival, the magic user may bargain with it to learn new spells.

Each fiend only knows a certain number of spells which it may impart (DMs can find more information about this in Chapter X, The Fiends of Zaan) and the spell only allows the fiend to remain present for 24 hours/level (long enough to teach a single first level spell).
    The material component of the Lamentable Mentor is a gemstone worth at least 100 gold pieces.


  1. Okay, three things: 1) the Elves simply being "lazy" sounds an awful lot like Terry Brooks. More back story! 2) How awesome is the word "Catchpole"? 3) How can I get in on the ground floor of this shit?

    1. Perhaps I was not really clear; the elves aren't just lazy, they are also jaded and decadent, preferring to gender-change and engage in byzantine political maneuvers against one another in a hazy magically-assisted lifestyle.

      As for getting in on the ground floor, get your ass over to the IRC channel on irc.thisisnotatrueending.com, since that's where design is going on.